Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

By Mark E. Smith

Many couples face adversity. Some come together, while others fall apart. What foremost trait keeps couples together while facing among life’s toughest of times?

I recently worked an Abilities Expo, a consumer trade show for all products related to disability. During the expo, I met countless couples where one partner had experienced a life-changing illness or accident. It was the perfect opportunity to ask, What’s been the single biggest relationship key that’s helped you move through this as a couple?

The answer that most gave surprised me when it probably shouldn’t have: humor. Over and over again, couples told me that shared humor made the toughest situations bearable. And, they nailed it, knowing what all of us should know.

In fact, there are scientific reasons why humor and laughter enhance our relationships. Humor is an intrinsic “mood lifter.” When we smile or laugh, it releases endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in our brain. In a way, we get a little high when we smile or laugh, so it dramatically points our perception toward the positive, even in the bleakest situations. Therefore, when in a relationship, humor makes uncomfortable situations comfortable and breaks us out of daunting thoughts. If there’s a surefire way to direct a moment or mood as a couple, humor is it.

There is a caveat, however. It’s vital that both people share the humor. There’s no room for jaded or cynical humor. If one person finds humor in a situation and the other doesn’t, it will only make a situation worse. Two people laughing is a shared connection; one person laughing is angering to the other. We must laugh together, not apart.

I met a couple at the show, where the husband is living with ALS. The wife told me, “We can laugh together and cry together. If you can laugh together, you can cry together. But, it’s a lot more fun to laugh together….”

Life and relationships aren’t easy – especially when adversity comes our way. However, among the best tools we can have is humor. If we can laugh amidst a situation, we can address and cope with it. After all, the couple who laughs together stays together.

trust

By Mark E. Smith

Every week, I take a leap of faith on this blog and write essays that are often very personal and expose vulnerabilities about myself that I know can range from liberating to uncomfortable for readers. Yet, there’s a deep meaning and purpose to it all. Firstly, as a formally-trained writer, I was taught that if you’re truly going to write, you owe it to yourself and your reader to write with unflinching courage, to expose that which others may not dare, all in the name of integrity – the best writing is fearless and scary all at once. Secondly, there’s such power in universal experience, where if through sharing my own vulnerabilities I can help someone else embrace his or hers, realizing that none of us are alone in life’s challenges, that’s a tremendous privilege. I write to connect, and that demands unflinching honesty, candor and authenticity.

However, here’s what might surprise you: I don’t believe that this unyielding, wide-open form of trust should be practiced in our personal lives. The fact is, whether a child or a so-called hardened criminal, there’s a fragility within all of us – our inner-most vulnerabilities. And, they aren’t to be trusted with just anyone. We’re too valuable to risk handing over our emotions to those who may not honor, respect or deserve them.

Many of us know a lot of people, many of whom we call family and friends. For me, I can’t even count how many people I know. All are wonderful people. Yet, if you think about your own friends and family – as I do mine – how many have truly earned your trust to possess the capacity to treat your deepest vulnerabilities with the safety and security you deserve?

Chances are, not many. Unfortunately, we’ve often learned this in the most painful ways. We’ve shared our most vulnerable selves with someone, only to have that person attempt to hurt us with it later in scorn or judgement at the most opportune – make that, malicious – of times. True family and friends don’t use our vulnerabilities against us. Rather, true family and friends treat our vulnerabilities as sacred, those which are to be addressed with compassion, empathy and support.

So, how do we know with whom our deepest vulnerabilities are safe? For most of us, it’s a tiny fraction of those who we know, maybe only one or two people. And, the litmus test can take time, often years. See, true trust isn’t assumed; it’s earned, piece by piece. You share a little, see how that’s handled by someone over time, and if it’s honored, you share a little more, until ultimate trust is earned. Along the way, let us not be guarded, but aware, as if we witness the slightest violation of trust, it’s a sign to put on the emotional brakes and realize that person may be a loved family member or great friend, but not one who we can trust in our most sacred places – again, that’s reserved for those who’ve earned it.

By far the toughest practices of setting boundaries of who’s earned the privilege of being trusted with our deepest vulnerabilities is in romantic relationships because the emotions are so intense and the stakes are so high. In our desire to love and be loved, it’s far too easy to dismiss violations of our vulnerabilities. He only said it out of anger during our argument…. No, there’s never a reason or excuse to use someone’s vulnerabilities against him or her. That’s not love, its betrayal – and that never makes for a relationship you deserve. I married my wife for a lot of wonderful reasons, but the big one was our mutually-earned trust. Sure, we get mad and frustrated with each other, but we know that each other’s vulnerabilities are the sacred boundary line that we respect above all else. I’m also blessed that this ultimate sacred trust holds true with both my oldest daughter and my lifelong best friend.

When it comes to our vulnerabilities, let us seek comfort in others – it’s healing for the soul. However, let us likewise know that our vulnerabilities shouldn’t be entrusted to anyone except those worthy of respecting and cherishing such a gift. See, when it comes to ultimate trust, it’s quality, not quantity, that serves our heart.

marriage

By Mark E. Smith

Whenever I meet couples who’ve been married for several decades, I always ask them what’s their secret to a successful marriage?

“You need to weather the storms, the peaks and valleys,” they all essentially note. “You need to compromise and be willing to stick out the tough times. Love will pull you through.”

Interestingly, people always elude to how difficult marriage is, that to make it work, you have to be “too stubborn to quit,” as a gentleman told my fiancee and me on Valentine’s day.

However, while toughing out the bad times and being too stubborn to quit will keep any couple together, is that what anyone really wants in a marriage?

Out of every couple I’ve spoken with over the years, not one has ever told me that the success of their marriage has been due to mutual respect, unwavering trust, and sustained passion. No one’s ever said, “We constantly inspire each other….”

Respect, trust, passion, inspiration — why aren’t these the tenants of decades of a successful marriage? Why are couples accepting “toughing it out” as the key to marriage?

We live in a society with a fifty-one-percent divorce rate, and those who remain married are deemed successful. But, if your marriage is lacking respect, trust, passion, and inspiration, that’s not a success by any stretch.

Interestingly, if you look at the top reasons for divorce – communication breakdowns, infidelity, substance abuse, financial woes, lack of physical intimacy – they all go back to couples violating the four core values I note: respect, trust, passion and inspiration.

All of this leads me to a provocative question: where is accountability in relationships and marriages? There’s no magic to what makes a marriage a dream, a nightmare or a form of merely co-existing in-between: the two individuals’ behavior. Disrespect, infidelity or substance abuse don’t just randomly appear – pathology or not, someone makes the decision at some point to go down such paths. Again, marriages don’t mysteriously self-destruct – one or both partners pulls the pin, so to speak.

However, If you maintain respect, earn trust, fuel passion and foster inspiration, you’re guaranteed to live the most fulfilling life together. On the other hand, if you’re disrespectful, violate trust, defeat passion and uninspire each other, you’re doomed – either to a dissatisfying marriage or divorce. Go ahead and justify being in an unsatisfying marriage all one wishes – kids, money, being too stubborn to quit – but the goal should be living as a truly happy and passionate couple, not simply avoiding divorce. Again, there’s accountability where, as a couple from day one, over decades, you don’t justify or settle for poor behavior, but are dedicated to a lifetime of unwavering respect, trust, passion and inspiration.

Now, I may sound like an idealist, one who doesn’t know the challenges of marriage. To the contrary. I’ve known not only the challenges of marriage, but more so the opportunity within marriage to live to a higher standard. No, I haven’t been willing to accept disrespect, distrust, a lack of passion or inspiration. I’d rather be healthy and happy than in a dysfunctional, relationship. Yet, even more so, I’d rather share a life of respect, trust, passion and inspiration with my soul mate.

I know that some may see my relationship aspirations as unrealistic. I see them as accountable – and unquestionably possible. Of course, if everyone took my hard line toward love, that we shouldn’t compromise core healthy behavior and stay in dysfunctional relationships, the divorce rate might push 90%. But, the 10% of sustained marriages would be blissfully happy, living and loving with unwavering passion and ultimate security. I say, don’t settle, don’t compromise your marital happiness – and find yourself in the right relationship as a ten-percenter.

lightendtunnel
By Mark E. Smith

In my roles within the mobility industry, I often encounter very difficult situations. No, I don’t mean broken wheelchairs or grumpy customers – those are typically easy to resolve. Rather, the difficult situations I face are families in emotional crises, where a husband is newly paralyzed or parents have lost a child to a progressive condition like muscular dystrophy. And, along that harrowing road over the past 15 years, I’ve seen such families turn tragedy into triumph, while others crumbled into ruins. What is it, then, that separates these two outcomes? What is it that allows couples to survive devastating circumstance while others dissolve?

I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist, nor have I done any scientific studies. But, I am a real, thinking, feeling person with empathy toward those facing adversity – I’ve been there and I know what it’s like. And, as I’ve been in the trenches with families in crises, I’ve observed two very distinct factors that allow couples to face and overcome life’s most profound tragedies, actually strengthening relationships, not destroying them.

The first is factor that successful couples have in the face of adversity is unyielding love and respect for each other. Now, all couples will say that they have unyielding love and respect for each other, and it seems obvious that couples would have this. But, we live in a culture where relationships are about as sacred as trip through a drive-thru, and there’s too often very little respect among partners. Think about couples around you, or maybe your own relationship, where each individual makes him or herself the priority, not the relationship or partner. Or, think about how moodiness, arguing and name calling are deemed acceptable by many. Those are traits of dishonor and disrespect, and when crisis hits, such couples are doomed. In crises, the blame-game ensues and rather than protecting each other’s hearts, they go for the jugular.

However, surviving couples are different. Mutual respect reigns over moodiness, arguing and name calling. Surviving couples run toward the safety and shelter of their relationship during crises, not away from it. There’s a sanctity to the relationship that’s upheld, serving as an unconditional safety net during crises.

Statistically, the average length of marriage prior to divorce is eight years. Why eight years? Money magazine recently reported that over any 10-year period, we have a 98% chance of facing a major life crisis, albeit financial, health-related, and so on. Therefore, if we’re in rocky relationships, and are all but certain to face a crisis, of course it’s just a matter of time before it’s game over, logically right around that 8-year mark.

Yet, truly loving, respectful couples ultimately find crises as opportunities to grow close together. So, at eight years, having faced crises and embraced each other, their commitment is stronger. A couple simply has to have unyielding love and respect to weather crises. I have yet to meet a couple who’s stayed together through a life-changing crisis who didn’t have a foundation of unyielding love and respect for each other.

The second trait that I’ve found couples must have in order to survive a life-changing crisis is a sense of a higher power. Now, I don’t mean formal religion – although it’s often the case – but a true belief in a guiding force that everything happens for a reason, with larger meaning and purpose. This is such a powerful tool toward coping and healing because it often explains the inexplicable.

I was born with severe cerebral palsy. If I looked at that as a random act, solely making me suffer, can you imagine how bleak my world view would be – there’d be no purpose for my life. However, if I truly believe that there’s a purpose to why I received cerebral palsy, I then naturally look for the positives, giving my life purpose and meaning. Couples who succeed through tragedy do exactly this – that is, they share a belief in a larger purpose and meaning to all. If one or both partners are bitter or resentful over a crisis, again, they’ll go for the jugular, not the heart – and the relationship won’t survive. Both partners must believe in a higher power of meaning and purpose.

What I know is that given enough time – statistically within a 10-year period – couples will face crises. And, having witnessed many families experience the most harrowing of circumstances, I can attest to this fact: As long as you and your partner have unyielding love and respect, and believe in a larger meaning and purpose to all, you’ll make it hand-in-hand to the light at the end of the tunnel.

LOVE

By Mark E. Smith

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way…. -Pablo Neruda

As we sat talking – strangers seated next to each other on an airplane – I told him what I know about love as I glanced out the window, clouds beneath us drifting by, uncertainties ahead, the unknowns of travel and life….

Love isn’t about chances, I told him. It’s about trust. When you see a woman walking toward you – maybe the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen – and you smile warmly, looking into her eyes, you trust that she’ll smile back. Maybe it’s a stranger, and the electricity of her eyes says it all. Or, maybe she’s someone you know, and the squeeze of her hug says it all. However it occurs, it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When you ask a woman out on a date – maybe you put it casually, Do you want to go grab something to eat? – it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When you’re the first to initiate any milestones – …Can I see you again? …Do you want to come in? …How about meeting my friends? …What would you think about us going away this weekend? …I’m falling in love with you… – it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When there’s a petty argument, a disagreement, moodiness, and you’re the first to say, I’m sorry, it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When either one of you is confused or scared by it all, don’t run away from the relationship, run toward it. And, if she says that she needs time and space – maybe she’s even told you, It’s over – you step back as a gentleman, as a guy who cares and understands, and you give her that time and space because love isn’t about chances, it’s about trust.

And, when you have her picture still on your dresser, looking at it with fond memories – her head tilted back, smiling – but she’s not calling you on the phone anymore, your heart isn’t aching but warmed. Because, love isn’t about chances, it’s about trust.

Now, I can’t tell you whether it’s over or not in such cases – sometimes love has a vagueness and timing of its own. The cadence of the heart can’t be explained. But, I can tell you this: Love isn’t about chances. It’s about trust. …And, if you’re going to love – truly, madly, deeply – you have to trust more than you ever thought possible.

And, the clouds – the clouds, looking like I could float on them – just kept drifting by….